What we commonly call "epiphyllums" today are actually hybrids of epiphytic cacti species native to the jungles of Central and South America, as well as Mexico. The word epiphyllum in Greek means "upon the leaf" and the flowers appear to bloom directly on the leaves. Jungle cacti, however, have no leaves; their leaf-like parts are actually thickened stems or branches. These stems are typically flat but often grow in a triangular shape. Unlike most desert cacti, epiphyllums are not covered with spines. They do, however, have hair bristles or tiny spines in the areolas, some more so than others.In their native habitat, the epiphytic species often grow in the forks of trees or in rock crevices where their small, fibrous roots take hold in decaying vegetative matter. Some epiphytic species are rooted in the ground and use aerial roots to climb up tree trunks. The plants can draw moisture from the humid air and tropical rains. Because their root systems are relatively small, continually water-soaked soil will suffocate the roots. The jungles' frequent rains are ideal for keeping plant roots moist but not saturated. High in the trees, the plants receive much-needed air circulation from shifting tree branches which also let in the dappled sunlight they need to produce blooms.
It was in these tropical jungles of the New World that European explorers discovered epiphytic cacti. Night-blooming species are mostly white or white with pale yellow overcasts or traces of yellow in back petals. There are, however, a few species that have color in their flowers, notably the orange-red blooms of Nopalxochia ackermanii, the red Heliocereus aurantiacus, the scarlet Heliocereus cinnabarinus and the purplish-red Heliocereus speciosus.
Hybridizing has produced today's day-blooming epis in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes.
Publisher: Hirt's Gardens
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